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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Voyager 1 Leaves the Solar System

What phenomenal technology! Launching a rocket carrying a spacecraft that would eventually leave our solar system, our galaxy…onward forever. Well, not quite. What we really want is for someone – something – to find it. After all, that was the goal of the Voyager program which launched two unmanned probes, Voyager 1 & Voyager 2 (pretty smart naming by NASA, eh?) in 1977.

They flew past their initial goal, studying Jupiter and Saturn, collecting data and images of the solar system, then kept on going. Now, in January of 2011, it’s exited the solar system altogether – onward in the general direction of the Ophiuchus constellation – that new 13th constellation that's messing up astrologers – where lies AC+79 3888. And it’ll be there in only about 40,000 years!

Celebrate. Pop the cork! Our technology is “out there.”

Now…what technology did we put inside the spacecraft? Only the highest. Especially the “identifier” aboard. We sent out an LP!

We're hoping the probe would someday be discovered/captured/otherwise-examined by extraterrestrials.

Check out the photo of this very expensive pressing. This was gold plating on a copper disc. It contained sounds representative of life on Earth and images of earthlings (laid down in analog). Also included were sound effects worthy of the old Pepper-Tanner recordings…birds, whales, and a variety of other animals, wind, thunder, surf and musical selections covering a number of cultures and times. 

I tried to make out details on the label - wouldn't it be ironic if it were Sony or Polygram?  Oops.  Back to the topic at hand.
There are greetings from Earth in over fifty languages and messages from then President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim.

Interestingly, the record is recorded/encoded at 16 2/3 RPM (the 1970’s version of data compression.) There was compression – likely by reducing modulation to add additional groove space – to make room for 90 minutes of music and the 115 images

Smartly figuring that the finders of the record might not have a Shure or Benz Micro dealership nearby, the record was sent with cartridge and stylus. Further, written and symbolic instructions were included in the hopes that these extraterrestrials will “figure it out.”

And what will they figure out? Well, think about it.

“Hey, Glop, look what someone launched into space.”

“Yeah. Can’t believe it. And, from the pictures, it looks like we have to spin this thing then scratch this pointy thing against it to find out what’s in it.”

“Right. And how long has it been since we had anything that spun? A million years?”

“True enough. I mean, holy creator, these guys are really primitive. Things have to move to make sounds or pictures.”

“Oh, the farquar with it. I don’t care, do you?”

“Only if that disc says they’re close by.”

How far have we come in 40 years? What would we send today? DVD? Laptop complete with hard drive full of “Earth”? (And what battery will we send with that?).
To be fair, many very bright scientists contributed to the creation of this documentation of Earth. They employed the best methods of the time to convey us to the universe.  And it’s a bang-up idea…provided the discoverers aren’t a bunch of Jedis with very fast space ships!

So after looking back. let’s look forward. What would we be able to include in the spacecraft if we launched in 2077, instead. Progress. It’s a good thing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Who's Listening?

Who’s Listening. No…I mean it. Who’s listening – as in nobody listens anymore. Want to prove it? Walk into a McDonald’s or Starbucks and tell them, “I’d like a large, black, decaf coffee.” “OK. And do you want room for cream?” “Large, black, decaf coffee.” “Right. Small or large?” “Large, black, decaf coffee.” “Sure. And did you want regular or decaf?” “Could I just have a glass of water?” And so it goes, more times than not. And it’s true in the rest of the world. “OK. Let’s patch around the processor.” “OK, I’ve got it into the processor” “Around the processor.” “Oh. Well, that explains the overload LED.” or… “Grab the tripod; leave the batteries in the van.” “Here ya go. I got the batteries.” So what’s the solution. Ah…solution. See, I’m not just ranting. Well the first part of the solution is to make sure you’re saying what you mean – and in the manner you intend the action to occur. Yes, the “other guy” isn’t the only responsible party. As your instructions become vague, the chances of a correct response become less. Then, be sure you have the other party’s attention. If it’s a person-to-person meeting, make eye contact throughout the entire instruction. Give instructions in easy-to-understand language and don’t rush through them. Make sure not to leave anything out. While that doesn’t mean, “OK, walk to the door. Grab the handle, turn the handle counterclockwise, push the door, walk through, close the door behind you,” it does mean you can’t leave anything germane out and expect the other party to fulfill your request. Finally, be exact. “The box below the green digitizer box – I think that’s it. Right hand knob, no, switch. Turn it on.” Now, there’s a good one. It may solve the problem or it could launch a cruise missile somewhere. Then, get the other party to repeat the instruction back to you. No big deal. Happens in air traffic control all the time and when a person feeds it back to you properly, you know you at least have half a shot of their getting it right. This is especially important if you’re communicating via phone or in some other remote manner. Yes! Even texts get misinterpreted. One last important point: better communication usually comes with more communication - the more you work with someone, the better the odds of getting your point across or understanding theirs. Take the personal time to get to know the folks you work with. It's makes things a lot easier!